Helpful Things: Sex, Sexuality, and Baptism

By Sandra Madden

Editor's note: While this article was originally featured in the fall 2018 issue of Higher Things Magazine, we believe that youth leaders encounter the issues tackled herein on a very regular basis.  We've included free Bible study material as well!

Sex Is Everywhere

Our culture today is saturated with sexuality. Sexuality has become all about who you love, or at least lust after. Whether it’s the idea that affirmative consent is the only boundary placed on sexuality, or that sexuality should be tied up completely in heterosexual marriage, which people ideally enter into soon after puberty, following traditional sex roles to form nuclear families with as many children as possible, or singles being encouraged to cultivate an often idolatrous desire for a spouse who will end all their loneliness. . .it’s all still an inappropriate emphasis on sexuality for faithful Christians. And instead of resisting this superficial worldview, churches often just repeat it using spiritual terms.

As if that weren’t enough, our culture now demands that we also identify ourselves according to our sexuality. People even introduce themselves with an assortment of new terminology and combinations of genders, orientations, preferences, and pronouns. It’s overwhelming!

Who Are You Really?

When it comes to questions of identity, as Christians we’ve been given the gift of having that all settled for us, so our first answer is always, “I am baptized.”

What does this mean, though? To paraphrase Galatians 3:28, it means that in Christ, there is no Jew, no Greek, no Italian, no Kenyan, no Japanese. In Christ, there is neither slave, free, employer, employee, rich, poor, haves, or have-nots. No “in” crowd, no “out” crowd. In Christ, there is no male or female, gay or straight, cis or trans. Either you are in Christ…or you are not. The labels based on external differences we apply to ourselves and others are not to be our primary identities. We, who are baptized, are all in Christ. That’s not just our primary identity, it is the only identity that ultimately and eternally matters.

Galatians 3:28 is often misused to say that gender differences don’t matter. Ironically, all the sexuality talk in our society makes it clear that gender differences  DO matter. A lot. We just want to be the ones to define and express our sexuality, and to define our gender.

The Cost of Living in a Fallen World

But there’s no getting around the fact that God created binary sexes for humanity and set apart heterosexual marriage to be the basis for community and procreation. Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world. Every cell in our bodies, every action we take, every thought we think, every relationship we have in this life is tainted in one way or another by sin. We all get sick, we are all born with various defects and diseases, or we eventually develop them later in life. We all do things we shouldn’t and don’t do things we should. And ultimately we all die.

But your sins, no matter what they are, do not define you. You have a new identity. You are baptized! You have died and been raised again in Christ through Baptism. But our old nature still clings to us as long as we live on this side of Christ’s return and we will not be completely free of it until Jesus returns or we die, whichever happens first. So daily, remember your Baptism and put to death your sinful nature and the things it tempts you to do.

How do we do that? Not just by not-giving-in to those temptations, but also by not-dwelling-in those sins when our weakness caves to them. Like when you are trying to eat in a more healthy manner. . .right up until you pass by that box of delicious and irresistible doughnuts. Don’t throw up your hands and say, “Well, I’ve blown it now, I might as well forget about my diet until next week and load up on the junk in the meantime.”

Run the other direction from that kind of thinking! Confess your sin and hear once again who you are in Christ and that He gave His own life to forgive that sin. . .and you, the sinner.

What the World Wants

The world would have us divide ourselves according to our sexual desires, not even by our genetics or genitalia, but rather by how we subjectively feel about that. And if we feel like we don’t fit the accepted mold for our genetic gender, it must mean that we should just live as though we were the opposite gender. And if we feel romantically or sexually attracted to one type of person or another (or both, or neither), we should go wherever our desires take us. But that’s not life, that’s continuing in slavery to your sin.

Freedom in Christ

Because you are baptized, because you have been given new life, because you are free from slavery to your old sins and sinful ways, you don’t just go back and live like none of that ever happened! You are baptized. You are different now. You have been changed.

In case you didn’t know, freedom in Christ means that you are NOT free to sin. You are NOT free to fornicate. You are NOT free to engage in acts of homosexuality or acts of unmarried heterosexuality. You are NOT free to despise that you were conceived male or female—or despise whatever gift God has hidden for you if you were born with more ambiguous genes or hormones.

What You Have in Christ

Maybe once you didn’t know that you shouldn’t do those things, but now you know. You’ve read it here if nothing else. I don’t write this to put down or shame anyone. Lord knows I’ve got my own temptations and sins (just like everyone else walking the planet). I’m addressing this so I can also tell you that, in Christ, you are FREE from all that kind of thinking and living.

In Christ, you have become obedient to God’s ways, even in your heart. In Christ, because you have been set free and been given His righteousness before God, you now not only know a better way, you want to do it. Your conscience is not going to be at rest when you don’t. It’s going to bother you. Maybe it already does, in which case, you have been given a pastor who will be happy to talk to you about Individual Confession and Absolution.

Remember Whose You Are

Don’t put on those same old clothes, don’t go out to the same old haunts. Don’t hang out with people who just put temptation in front of you and drag you into the same old world where you used to live. Don’t give in to those desires that seem so right and fulfilling but that you know aren’t who you are in Christ.

Seek out the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2). Seek out people who will tell you again (and again, and again, and again) who you are in Christ. Be where God’s Word is faithfully preached. Put yourself where you can regularly receive the medicine you need for your soul, and the strength to continue to put that Old Adam to death and live who you are as the baptized.

That being said, it is difficult to live faithfully as a sexual being, whether celibate or married. We talk about celibacy as this horrible thing, the “leftover” option when you find yourself evidently not marriage material or happen to have your sexuality affected by sin in such a way that heterosexual marriage isn’t really something that even interests you. That’s not celibacy, or rather it shouldn’t be.

Where Does Real the Highest Love Abide?

We’ve so sexualized every relationship and every interaction with people that it’s made it seem like marriage is the only way you aren’t relegated to a lifetime of loneliness. That is also not the way God has laid it out for us in Scripture.

Increasingly, the only loving relationship we can imagine with long-term obligations to another person is marriage. This is true both for the right and for the left, conservative and liberal, gay and straight. We’ve so bound love to marriage, it only makes sense that many people believe denying a person marriage denies them access to love. That is a sad way of thinking, indeed.

The Gospel quite explicitly teaches, however, that the highest love is not found only in marriage, but also in self-sacrificial friendship: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Our inability to consider this kind of friendship as the Christian’s primary relationship of love (regardless of marital status) exposes the lifelessness with which many of us understand the Gospel.

Building Up One Another

We are the baptized. We want to treat each other better, we should treat each other better, and we are free to treat each other better. Our identity as the baptized makes us all equal before Christ. Our freedom as the baptized frees us from slavery to our sexual sins as well as backbiting, pointing out faults, anger, dissension, strife, rubbing things in, shunning others, etc. Our new lives allow us to put others before ourselves, showing kindness and compassion even to those we don’t think deserve it. And the love we have been shown by Christ, we can shower wastefully on others. . .like spending someone else’s money--not to condone anyone’s sins, but to build each other up as the fellow baptized.

Be sure to check out the accompanying Leader's Guide and Student Lesson Bible study material for this article!
Sandra Madden serves as the content executive for Higher Things, making her responsible for pretty much all the resources you’re enjoying on HT’s new website, app, and media platforms. She loves taking on new challenges and creatively bringing order to chaos. Her lengthy experience with Higher Things (since 2001!) means she understands youth, families, and congregations, and she's thrilled to keep bringing you the content you need.

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